Mark Mangino lives by the simple credo he once heard Bill Snyder say on the headset during a mid-1990s Kansas State football game: “Keep sawin' wood.”
Mangino was an assistant coach under Snyder, and things weren't going well early one game.
Sensing frustration from his offensive staff, Snyder calmly said, “That's OK. Let's just keep sawin' wood. It'll happen.”
The mantra stuck with Mangino from that day forward, and is so ingrained in his mind that he made it his Twitter handle (@KeepSawinWood).
Mangino was offensive coordinator on Oklahoma's 2000 national championship team, and then led Kansas to unprecedented success during his eight seasons as its head coach, including a 12-1, Orange Bowl championship season in 2007.
He resigned after the 2009 season amid allegations of emotional abuse toward players.
He took a few years off from coaching before joining Eric Wolford's staff at Youngstown State. Wolford played under Mangino at Kansas State in the early 1990s.
I grew up in a close-knit community, a steel town, an industrial town in western Pennsylvania. It was a working-class community. Probably 80 percent of the people worked in some type of industrial-related job, whether it was a mill, a factory, the railroads, that type of thing.
You learn the value of hard work. You really appreciate family. Family was very important in that community. Everybody hung together. You did a lot of things with your family. Everybody knew each other.
I always thought I'd work in sports because every bit of free time I had, I was playing football, baseball or basketball. I was just an average athlete. I knew I wasn't a great athlete, but I realized that I really enjoyed the competition, and I liked the coaching aspect.
My teachers in school and my parents would always say, ‘You can't make a living with football; you've gotta do something else. You spend all your time on ball fields.' I heard that a million times growing up, but I was one of the lucky ones. I was able to make a living in sports.
My wife's brother was a Parade All-American and played quarterback at West Virginia under Bobby Bowden. Mary Jane has spent a lot of time in football stadiums. We had that in common. I think to this day, that's the thing that we really share a passion for, outside of our family, is we both enjoy football and baseball.
Over the years, she hasn't been shy about lending me tips. I've come home after many games, and she'd say, ‘You know, you shouldn't have called that play. You shouldn't have thrown that pass on that down.'
I'd joke with her and say, ‘You know, the press conference was over about an hour ago.'
Anybody in coaching knows that your wife has to have thick skin; she has to be able to deal with the ups and downs. We've had some great moments, and we've had some tough times, and she's been steady. She doesn't get too high, doesn't get too low. I think she's been good for me. When you get a bump in the road, she's usually a voice of reason.
When I went in to Kansas, I didn't have any three-year, five-year or seven-year plan. The program was in disarray, and I was just so focused on just trying to take steps.
You hear coaches say all the time — and I know journalists get tired of it; you call it coach-speak — but to be perfectly honest with you, we were a day at a time. We were just trying to get a little better, trying to improve thing.
I told the media several times, we live and work for the present, mindful of the future, but not trying to look into it. We just kept sawing wood, and the program gradually got better.
I think if a coach takes over a program that has historically not been successful, and he walks into his opening press conference and says, ‘We're gonna win the conference,' and, ‘In three years we're gonna compete for a national championship,' you probably oughta check him for insanity.
I think you've gotta go in and say, ‘Listen, we've gotta roll up our sleeves and start working. And if we work really hard, and if we do the right things, run a clean program and try to recruit quality kids the best we can, who knows what the limit can be?'
I just get a chuckle sometimes … you've gotta respect the enthusiasm of a new coach when he comes into a program, but there are some programs that, historically, have struggled. When they hire a new coach, I love to watch those press conferences.
They say, ‘We're gonna do this, and we're gonna do that.' And I'm thinking, ‘Be careful my friend. Be careful what you say. You might have to back it up sooner than you think.'
From the outside, everyone would think we were depressed and pouted and felt bad (after leaving Kansas). We were disappointed.
But you know what? In about 48 hours, we shook it off, we got with our kids, we laughed and joked, and said, ‘Hey, this is part of this profession. Sometimes things happen that you may or may not deserve.'
Football parallels life. Not everything's gonna go your way. Sometimes bad things happen to people who don't deserve it, but that goes in life as well as football.
There was nobody sitting around the Mangino house feeling bad for themself. I can assure you of that.
I think Youngstown State is the right place at the right time.
Being with Eric Wolford, a former player of ours at Kansas State, he has done everything he could possibly do to make me comfortable here. What I like about it is, everybody appreciates your hard work and your effort. That's why you want to do all you can to help them.
This is FCS-level football, but it's doggone good football. There's a lot of talented players. Just check the NFL Draft every year, and see how many players are drafted from this conference.
Some Division I programs get off on this theory about recruiting off of lists, and who's got stars, and this and that. I think that's why some of these kids who can play at the highest level have trickled down to our level.
You're still dealing with highly competitive athletes and coaches, so you still have the same enthusiasm and buzz and urgency to prepare well. The biggest difference is the crowds are not as big, and there's not a lot of fanfare that goes with BCS-level football.
It doesn't make the newspapers; it doesn't make the Internet. But when you take a kid that needs a chance in life, and maybe his family didn't have that chance, and you see him make the most of it, get a college degree and be successful, it's a great feeling.
It's the same elation of winning a game, and maybe more so. It really is. That's what it's all about.
When things are tough, when things aren't going right, when something looks like it's insurmountable and difficult, just keep sawin' wood.